Durban - More than 60 vagrants, including street children, hijacked a bus ferrying elderly patients to the Verulam Day and Frail Care Centre on Wednesday, ordering the driver to take them to Durban.
Sixteen women, aged between 60 and 75 years, endured a one-hour ordeal during which they were robbed of cash and cellphones.
The terrified driver, Thulani Mhlongo, said he and the passengers were told to hand over their cellphones and money, and were sworn at and harassed by the hijackers, who claimed they had been “dumped” in Verulam by metro police.
The women are day patients at the frail care and travel between Cottonlands and Verulam every morning.
One of the elderly women passengers had put up a fight but was still robbed of her possessions, Mhlongo said.
The drama began at about 8am when Mhlongo was transporting the patients from Cottonlands. He said he was ambushed by a large gang of vagrants who blocked the road and forced their way on to the bus.
He said the men were very dirty, smelt terrible and appeared sunburnt.
Mhlongo told the Daily News he was terrified and confused when one of them snatched the keys out of the ignition and ordered him to hand over his cellphone and money. They did the same to the passengers.
He said the thugs ranged in age from about 12 to mature adults.
“There were six standing on my left (and) the others came into the bus and ordered me to drive them to Durban because they had been taken and dumped in Verulam by the metro police,” he said.
Metro police spokesman, Superintendent Sbonelo Mchunu, denied the vagrants had been dumped in Verulam, saying it was normal procedure to take them to the nearest police station.
“We do not ‘dump’ them anywhere. There are cases where we find that cells are full in the nearest police station and we have to go to the next station, but we never leave (them) anywhere else,” Mchunu said.
“We have (heard) these allegations before and we investigated and found no evidence to support the claims.”
Mhlongo said that after robbing him, the vagrants returned the keys and ordered him to drive to Durban.
He refused and also tried to explain to them that the women were senior citizens and did not have much money. He headed for Ndwedwe, where the vagrants eventually alighted.
“One of them had a confrontation with one of the old ladies. She didn’t want to give them her phone and money and they were arguing, but he didn’t harm her although he ended up taking (her) valuables,” he said.
Asked if he thought of fleeing during the ordeal, Mhlongo simply said:
“I had to co-operate with them for the sake of the gogos (grannies). What if they harmed them after I fled? If I was alone, I would have, but I felt responsible for them.”
Mhlongo said they came across more vagrants at a taxi rank in Ndwedwe and the group on the bus demanded that he stop to pick them up.
“One of them was sensible and kept calming the situation when things seemed to be getting out of control and they got off to reunite with them,” he said.
Mhlongo said the hijackers realised the bus was not going to Durban and they left.
A director of the Verulam Day and Frail Care Centre, Pravhin Patak, said he found out about the incident when the bus arrived at the centre.
“A social worker counselled the women and our nursing staff examined them.”
He said a group of about 400 senior citizens then prayed for the women and the driver.
Patak said he was grateful the passengers and driver had not been harmed.